The winning streak came to an end on Monday night after the 76ers lost at home 109-105 in double OT against the Bulls. The team heads to Chicago for a rematch, which will kick off a four-game trip beginning tonight at 8 p.m.
The Sixers have put together an impressive regular season and with 11 games to go. They are poised to make a run into the playoffs with a real opportunity to contend for the conference title. Joel Embiid will receive his fair share of credit for the achievements of this franchise, however it is a team game and the beauty of this roster is that guys have embraced their role — and found success in doing so.
Georges Niang spoke recently on his role and focus with the playoffs on the horizon.
“[Bobby Jones] spoke to us about togetherness and everybody buying into their role, which I thought was really cool,” Niang said. “Especially I can relate to that, ‘cause buying into my role has kept me having a job for the last seven years.”
“At the end of the day, an NBA team has seven or eight roles that need to be filled, and if you can fill one of those roles ... you’ll play a long time. And if you can fill one of those roles on a championship team, you’ll be remembered forever.”
The biggest factor in the Sixers’ success has been two-fold:
- All parts of the team have learned and grown to work together as a complete package
- The communication has been elevated to create a respectful and healthy environment
The team you see today is not the same group that tripped out of the starting block in October. Everyone has gotten to the point where the new faces have become leaders and key contributors. De’Anthony Melton is a defensive stopper who can start, come off the bench, and score if necessary. Danuel House Jr. can defend on the block or perimeter and he also has no issue with starting or being the first person off the bench. Jalen McDaniels has embraced the mentality of being ready when your number is called. And Paul Reed, as well as Niang, know that when the little things are taken care of, then the bigger picture becomes crystal clear, which is to win games and advance throughout the postseason.
The reserves know that over the span of 48 minutes, anything can happen. It is their job to stay ready physically and mentally when they get into the game, and to make the most of their opportunities. Reed explained the game within the game.
“I’m one of the guys who has to do the dirty work,” Reed said. “I have to box out, contest shots, I gotta talk on defense, sprint the floor, set the screens, roll hard — even though a lot of times I probably won’t get the ball, but it creates opportunities for my teammate, so that’s my role for the team — doing all the dirty work.”
“You know, boxing out, let’s say you have [Celtics big man] Robert Williams, I gotta keep him off the glass. Half the time I’m not going to be the one to get the rebound, but as long as the team gets the rebound, that’s all that matters.”
This team has made changes in personnel over the years, and while that takes away from continuity, there are enough familiar faces that have been able to mold this group into a cohesive unit.
The additions of James Harden and P.J. Tucker have allowed for the communication to be better at critical moments. The conversations and adjustments within the game have been elevated, and the time spent in the locker room or during flights has reached a new level of camaraderie and accountability.
“There was a moment in Cleveland where I thought to myself, ‘Wow, we’re really turning the corner,’” Niang said, “and it was when we were down 13 [points] in the third quarter. Last year we were probably like, ‘uh...we’re probably not going to get this one, but we have Charlotte and Indiana, so we’ll take two out of three.’ ...
”Danuel House said something in the huddle, P.J. [Tucker] did, and Doc [Rivers] came in, then we went on a 7-0 run and now we’re back to being only down five and it’s like, that was a moment after that game where it’s like, ‘OK, this is the adversity you go through — that grit, that toughness, that championship teams show and we did that on the road, so that was a moment that I feel like on that road trip ... that feeling you have, like we’re headed in the right direction.”
The 76ers have the third seed in the conference with a comfortable lead ahead of Cleveland and a small margin separating Philadelphia from the second and first overall spots. They could potentially gain on the Celtics for the two seed and home court advantage in the coming weeks. That is something worth tracking as the playoff picture comes into focus.